The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet – Critical Listening Exercise

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF).

Want a good test for Transparency and Resolution? Try this one. There is a sound on this album’s side one that’s unlike any I can recall hearing before. Listen to No Expectations and see if you don’t hear something quite strange going on in the general area of the left rear of the studio. It took me a while to figure out what it was, and on the bad British pressings and all of the domestic copies you can hardly hear it all. 

You should be able to hear it provided:

  • You have a good copy of the record.
  • You cleaned it properly.
  • You played it on high quality equipment in a good room, and
  • You listened to it critically.

You really need all four. It’s what this commentary is all about.

Our Recent Hot Stamper Commentary

Of course, Hot Stamper Sound still only gets you what’s on the tape. In this case, it’s some rude, crude, dirty rock & roll. That’s clearly what the Stones were going for here. In terms of audiophile appeal, Tea For The Tillerman this ain’t. Beggars may have some of The Rolling Stones best music on it, but those looking for the best sounding Stones album should look in the direction of Sticky Fingers or Let It Bleed. They’re clearly better recordings.

But this album is no slouch. It can be a bit midrangy in places: to name just a couple, Sympathy For The Devil seems to have that quality on every copy I’ve heard, and Street Fighting Man never sounds all that amazing. What sets the best copies apart from the pack is a fuller, richer tonal balance, which is achieved mostly by having plenty of bass and lower midrange energy. The copies that are bass shy — most of them, that is to say — tend to bring out more of that midrangy shortcoming.

Two other qualities that the best copies have are 1): more Transparency, so the ambience and subtle musical qualities are more audible, and 2): less Smearing of the sound, which is especially noticeable as a lack of bass definition and a blurring or softening of the transients elsewhere.

Genius!

One further note: this is a work of GENIUS. There are a select group of Rolling Stones records which I prize above all others: this one and the two I mentioned above. Those three represent the peak of The Rolling Stones output. It would be hard to imagine three better records produced by any single rock band from the era.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Sympathy for the Devil 
No Expectations 
Dear Doctor 
Parachute Woman 
Jig-saw Puzzle

Side Two

Street Fighting Man 
Prodigal Son 
Stray Cat Blues 
Factory Girl 
Salt of the Earth

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

The Stones forsook psychedelic experimentation to return to their blues roots on this celebrated album, which was immediately acclaimed as one of their landmark achievements. A strong acoustic Delta blues flavor colors much of the material, particularly “Salt of the Earth” and “No Expectations,” which features some beautiful slide guitar work. Basic rock & roll was not forgotten, however: “Street Fighting Man”… was one of their most innovative singles, and “Sympathy for the Devil”… was an image-defining epic.